Thursday, September 22, 2005

Coffee and a....keyboard?

The Minnesota Daily (U of M's university paper) highlighted a rather unknown topic concerning newspaper production and its effects on forests worldwide. Now, I grew up in a household where The Boston Globe and New York Times were on the table at 6 a.m. (among other daily papers)and there still is that hard-to-explain feeling of holding a crisp daily paper full of today's news in your hands first thing in the morning. However, what if what's in today's news questions the whole idea of where we get that very paper?

Frank Erickson puts forth some startling data of how huge the newspaper production impact is on forests worldwide. America reads over 61 million papers every morning from a variety of 1,580 daily papers. Throw in the beastly Sunday morning dictionary that arrives at doorsteps and storefronts once a week and we're talking staggering amounts of paper; like 300 pounds per person per year. Whats even more shocking is....
Newsprint, which is what newspapers are made of, runs between 70 percent and 100 percent virgin forests. Though more than 60 percent of newsprint is recycled, not much of it again becomes newsprint. Virgin newsprint is much cheaper. A lot of recycled newsprint in the United States goes to China, recycled newsprint is one of the largest exported products in America. Even though we are recycling more, overall we are using more, much more.
Basically, the newsprint we read every day is pretty much from a tree, not from a recycled NY Times from 10 years ago. And, instead of reusing them we send them to China (along with the rest of our economy). So, are we addicted to a newspaper culture? Maybe, because as I was raised, its a key part of so many people's morning. With the advent of online journalism (and its FREE!) why do we continue to strip forested lands for our daily news? We've been reading on paper since the Egyptians discovered papyrus...maybe it's time we figure out a more sustainable format.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

It's a Five

Hurricane Rita is officially a category 5. Washington Post reports that over a million people have been evacuated along the Gulf Coast region after 165 mph sustained winds were clocked inside the storm. Forecasters are already saying that Rita could be the most intense storm ever to hit the Texas coastline. And how is our leadership responding? Checkout this gem from Homeland Security Director Chertoff:

"You can't play around with this storm," Chertoff said on ABC's "Good Morning America." He added: "The lesson is that when the storm hits, the best place to be is to be out of the path of the storm."

You don't say. Glad to see leadership is stepping up with such a precise warning. We've already had one Cat-4 storm hit New Orleans and two weeks later a cat-5 storm is bearing down on Texas and all you can say is, "get out of the way?" How about explaining what the hell we're doing to be sure we don't have a second Katrina fallout? Checking out the satellite imagery, you can't say anything but "Wow." The intensity of this hurricane is astounding. Rita could be only the fourth Cat-5 storm ever to make landfall along U.S. coastlines, joining the Florida Keys storm ('35),Camille ('69) and Andrew ('92) in an exclusive but deadly club.

Rita is moving at approximately 5 mph across the Gulf of Mexico. Why does it matter? The warm waters of the Gulf are like steroids for 'canes. The longer time it spends hovering over the warm water the more powerful it becomes. The good news is that wind speed cannot exceed 190 mph. The bad news is, if they do, it would be the strongest storm ever to hit the United States coastline and will have the strength to slam cities hundreds of miles inland as well. The other bad news? Warmer oceans make for incredibly ferocious storms. Why are oceans warming? Climate change and escalation of global warming.

Also, see the loop that Unisys has setup showing the evolution of the storm. If you look carefully, you can already see another tropical depression forming about 500 miles east of the Dominican Republic. 'Tis the season....

UPDATE: And wouldn't you know, crude oil is on the up and up.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Intense Hurricanes and Global Warming? Duh.

The AP is reporting on research to be published Friday stating that the intensity of worldwide hurricanes has increased significantly over the past decade. Scientists at Georgia Institute of Technology say that the number of powerful hurricanes (cat 4 and 5) "rose to an average of 18 per year worldwide since 1990, up from 11 in the 1970s." The report will be published in tomorrow's Science magazine.

Some scientists over at the NOAA question the data saying that measurements taken in the 1970s were not accurate due to a technological difference between today's instruments and those that were used over 25 years ago. Personally, I don't think I need a anemometer to tell me that storm intensity is on the up and up; just look at how fast New Orleans washed out to sea. I've never heard of such destruction from a hurricane, and to think that the 6 of the 10 costliest (in $ not lives lost) hurricanes have occurred in the past 10 years definitely drives the point home: its only getting more intense and if you're living along the Gulf Coast, it might time to trade in your swimsuits for snowsuits and see what Michigan has to offer.

However, if you compare the top 10 strongest hurricanes on record between 1900 and 2004, only 2 (including Katrina) manage to make the list. It seems the most destructive hurricanes in U.S. history aren't necessarily the most intense but are causing the most damage, which begs the question: are we just lucky? What happens when more cat 5 hurricanes acutally stomp all over Miami, Tampa Bay, Orlando, the summer cottages of Hilton Head or Gavelston, TX? The financial damage at that point will be incomprehensible.

So, maybe the data of the past 75 years is not worth considering, since, as Chris Landsea of NOAA says, there just aren't sound results coming from anything pre-1985, due to inaccurate wind measurements and old-school equipment. But that puts us back to focusing on what we do have good data for, the past 15 years. That data isn't any friendlier. Since 1990, the U.S. has dealt with 4 different category 4 and 5 storms. Thats alot of big storms in just a 15 year period. In fact, outside of hurricanes Andrew and Hugo ('92 and '89) the last category 4 or 5 storm was in 1969.

Is the answer in building stronger, more expensive levees? Rebuilding the natural barrier islands that oil and gas companies have decimated could be a great addition to NO hurricane strategy. Checkout the CS Monitor's article on where this rebuilding should start.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Governing Like Billy Joel Drives

I'm not a huge Bill Maher fan but this was probably one of the funnier open letters to the President in the wake of Katrina that I've read yet. Enjoy...
America must recall the president. That's what this country needs. A good, old-fashioned, California-style recall election! Complete with Gary Coleman, porno actresses and action film stars. And just like Schwarzenegger's predecessor here in California, George Bush is now so unpopular, he must defend his jog against...Russell Crowe. Because at this point, I want a leader who will throw a phone at somebody. In fact, let's have only phone throwers. Naomi Campbell can be the vice-president!

Now, I kid, but seriously, Mr. President, this job can't be fun for you anymore. There's no more money to spend. You used up all of that. You can't start another war because you also used up the army. And now, darn the luck, the rest of your term has become the Bush family nightmare: helping poor people.

Yeah, listen to your mom. The cupboard's bare, the credit card's maxed out, and no one is speaking to you: mission accomplished! Now it's time to do what you've always done best: lose interest and walk away. Like you did with your military service. And the oil company. And the baseball team. It's time. Time to move on and try the next fantasy job. How about cowboy or spaceman?!

Now, I know what you're saying. You're saying that there's so many other things that you, as president, could involve yourself in...Please don't. I know, I know, there's a lot left to do. There's a war with Venezuela, and eliminating the sales tax on yachts. Turning the space program over to the church. And Social Security to Fannie Mae. Giving embryos the vote. But, sir, none of that is going to happen now. Why? Because you govern like Billy Joel drives. You've performed so poorly I'm surprised you haven't given yourself a medal. You're a catastrophe that walks like a man.

Herbert Hoover was a shitty president, but even he never conceded an entire metropolis to rising water and snakes.

On your watch, we've lost almost all of our allies, the surplus, four airliners, two Trade Centers, a piece of the Pentagon and the City of New Orleans...Maybe you're just not lucky!

I'm not saying you don't love this country. I'm just wondering how much worse it could be if you were on the other side. So, yes, God does speak to you, and what he's saying is, "Take a hint."
Yeah. I'm not sure anyone could say it better than that. Granted the vehicle of the commentary is comedy but there are some valid points he makes underneath it all.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Deflation Tactics

It seems SUVs are beginning to spread their love all the way to the most romantic city in all the world: Paris. SUV and light-truck sales are sky-rocketing among European Union countries, more than doubling over the past year. Even in countries that normally pay $6.60 per gallon for petrol (prices have hit $7 after Katrina), the idea of driving a H2 Hummer down the Champs Elysees is somehow catching on. Here's the kicker: in France, to fill up your new Humbug it'll only cost you a mere $210. Yeah, you thought your wallet felt a little lighter, imagine what a night out driving around Paris will cost 'ol Pierre. Whats interesting in all this is what this spike in SUV sales is driving European activists to do.

A group called Les Degonfles ("the deflated") has taken to the streets to send a gentle (but firm) message to SUV owners: stop driving your damned gas guzzlers. The method to this madness is rather ingenius. Using a bike pump Les Degonfles are able to deflate the tires of parked SUVs without damaging anything while piling the winshield with fliers, pamphlets and reading material. Apparently, its not (really) breaking any laws.

Meanwhile, as Eurpeans choose to deflate SUVs, over here in the U.S. the nation's most famous environmental group, the Sierra Club, is busy endorsing SUVs. The Mercury Mariner, Ford Motor Company's newest wanna-be hybrid (23 mpg city, 29 hwy) is ready to grace the red, er, green carpet this fall and the Sierra Club is already tipping it's hat. For the record, I find it humorous (maybe sad) that a member-based group like the Sierra Club formally known for being rooted in activism that pushed the cultural and political envelope is suddenly endorsing the worst car company on earth when it comes to overall vehicle emissions. Even GM is better.

I'm glad Ford made a hybrid. Like I said earlier, I'm all for baby-steps. But shouldn't we be aiming to put zero-emission vehicles on the road? We're capable of it, and if consumers weigh in hard enough it can happen. However, often consumers don't weigh-in until it's too late.

Friday, September 09, 2005

The Kayne West Re-Mix

Off the cuff comments tend to hang around and similar to the "Dean Scream" during the Democratic Primaries last year, Kanye West's comments about President Bush on MSNBC's Benefit for New Orleans last week have evolved into a heckuva remix. The remix takes Kanye's words and adds the anger and desperation that many people feel while still trapped in New Orleans and still questioning why it took SO long to get emergency personnel to help one of the poorer communities of America. Some of the best lines:
Hurricane came through f--ked us up, round 'ere,
Government actin' like its bad luck down here,
All I know is that you better bring some trucks round 'ere,
Wonder why I got my middle finger up round here,
People lives on the line you [GWB] decline in their help
Since you takin so much time we survive in ourselves
Just me and my pets, and my kids and my spouse
Trapped in our own house looking for a way out.
Take a listen.

It's also interesting to see how the hip-hop community responded to Kanye's comments. If the hip-hop community starts a wave of activism to remove Bush from office expect it to start with someonen like Kanye saying something like this.

Why is no one throwing around the "I" word? Sleeping around in the White House warrants impeachment, but lying to the American public about the most costly war since Vietnam and failing to deal with a national disaster like Karina doesn't? Something in this country is screwed up. We're too busy straining at gnats while swallowing camels.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Chris Mooney Speaks...

Went to hear Chris Mooney speak last night at Cody's Books in Berkeley. Obviously, a ton of folks turned out to hear his comments on his first book, The Republican War on Science. He's got a full ammo belt with this expose documenting what happens when politics and industry decide to selectively choose what results they want, versus what results are actually true. Give it a'll change the way you listen to political policy when it intersects the world of science.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Katrina is Just the Opening Act

As the fallout from the most costly hurricane ever to hit America's shores continues, most folks aren't paying attention to whats around the corner. Katrina was merely the opening act in a long play (season) that could be the most intense the Gulf Coast has seen or experienced. For a city that celebrated past storms by throwing a party, the idea of a another category 3 or 4 storm hitting the region is far from everyone's mind in the fog of recovering from Katrina.

Dr. William Gray
, professor of atmospheric science at Colorado State Univeristy in Fort Collins, has for years been tracking the hurricane activity worldwide with an emphasis on the Atlantic region. He has pioneered hurricane forcasting. So, after Katrina I thought it might be a good idea to read his annual forcast for this year's hurricane season. The bad news: the Caribbean is getting torn up. Here are some fast facts Gray points out in his forcast:
Information obtained through 31 August 2005 shows that we have already experienced 110 percent of the average full season Net Tropical Cyclone (NTC)4 activity. In an average year, 33 percent of the seasonal average NTC of 100 occurs before the end of August. We expect that by the time the 2005 hurricane season is over, we will witness seasonal tropical cyclone activity at near record levels.

The most intriging part of Gray's Report? He doesn't blame the increased storm activity on global warming. In fact he denounces it...
Many individuals have queried whether the unprecedented landfall of four destructive hurricanes in a seven-week period during August-September 2004 and the landfall of two more major hurricanes in the early part of the 2005 season is related in any way to human-induced climate changes. There is no evidence that this is the case. If global warming were the cause of the increase in United States hurricane landfalls in 2004 and 2005 and the overall increase in Atlantic basin major hurricane activity of the past eleven years (1995-2005), one would expect to see an increase in tropical cyclone activity in the other storm basins as well (ie., West Pacific, East Pacific, Indian Ocean, etc.). This has not occurred. When tropical cyclones worldwide are summed, there has actually been a slight decrease since 1995. In addition, it has been well-documented that the measured global warming during the 25-year period of 1970-1994 was accompanied by a downturn in Atlantic basin major hurricane activity over what was experienced during the 1930s through the 1960s.

Well, shucks. So we aren't getting abnormally high amount of hurricanes but the ones we do get are more intense than ever before? The Pew Center on Global Climate Change seems to think there may be a connection between global warming and high intensity hurricanes, although they are unwilling to confirm it as fact.

So for now it looks like the jury is still officially out on a direct link between intense hurricanes and global warming, although a majority of scientists do say, rather confidently, that increasing global temperatures will result in more intense storms (but not more frequent storms) and they will be more destructive as more coastlines are developed and populations increase.

I think we have to restore order and life in New Orleans, but maybe we could do better NOT developing New Orleans anymore than it has to be? After Dennis Hastert's comments yesterday who knows what people think. Regardless, we're in for an interesting September and October.